presence / presents

My son is crying as he heads into the bathroom to brush his teeth. No – he’s not crying, he’s wailing. He’s devastated that I am making him take a trip with me. He wants to stay home.

I can’t leave him home alone. It doesn’t matter why really, because when you get down do it it’s just one of those grim realities of parenting that sometimes we have to do shit to our kids we don’t want to, or we have to make a crummy decision where someone’s going to be pissed, and sometimes it’s fatiguing. I still feel that panic, like somehow I should have said it another way or made smarter plans or, or, or bought him a pony – so he wouldn’t be upset. But the truth is life’s rough sometimes, and sometimes I’m just stunned into submission by it all. “At its best, Life’s a bitch,” as my now-departed friend Sandy used to say. I can’t protect my kids from all the ish and really, that’s not my job.

But I can gather him to me now and hold him and kiss him on the top of his head; his hair smells sweeter than anything I’ve known. “It’s okay, Little Guy,” I tell him now and he calms in my arms like a struggling little bird finding peace.

It’s cold outside but the house is warm and quiet. I’ve a busted-up vintage coat I picked up a few years ago for $20 at The Washington Store, one of those high-end tailored coats, not too fashionable really but it fits and it’s warm and I’m grateful as we head out into the brisk autumn air. My son is now bundled in layers upon layers, wrapped up, teeth brushed and face washed and now – sated, munching on a sandwich. Every couple nights Ralph bakes up a few more loaves of bread for the kids’ lunches and that fresh bread is immensely cheering no matter what else is going on.

And even now, my little boy, he cheers a little more that the car is warm and I’m buying him an eggnog at the coffee stand. Soon he is rattling along about this and that and I am using all my concentration to listen to him. My son’s mind is swift and enthusiastic and bright; a discrete little butterfly flitting from one flame-colored flower to the next. I am sluggish and distracted and pinched, mentally counting up dollars here and there and thinking of how much to put in the gas tank, how much to spend on dinner, how much I’ll need for postage. It seems I’m always aware I can’t let this stuff, or I won’t let this stuff, sap me from being here Now and being with my child. Being a present Mommy, the one person my kids want pretty much all the time or if not all the time, when they need some food or some love or some company. It’s a struggle and sometimes I feel like I’m drowning but I’ve never given up.

In the checkout I let Nels have my debit card and he pays for the purchases – “Like a Sir,” he says, pulling a mock-serious face and withdrawing the card from his wool coat’s breast-pocket. An older woman behind us in line is so thrilled at this little boy’s sweetness and energy that she can’t help but giggle at the slightest provocation, watching him with alacrity. Her delight in the child reminds me in looking at past pictures of my children, even pictures within the last year, that they grow so fast and I feel so much nostalgia, a kind of sadness, a kind of terror. I worry and fret and count pennies and make plans and it’s very, very easy for that to take the soul right out of me.

But I never have to let that happen. If I can just breathe in, right now. Just breathe, and Be.

small stone #4

rain-drenched earth and new mushrooms
my dog and I on a rural path.
He runs ahead, now and then swinging his head back to check my position –
very satisfied indeed

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